Don’t let Chescaleigh’s humor fool you.
The YouTuber, whose real name is Franchesca Ramsey (196,000 subscribers and 26.7 million views), is best known for her comedy chops, and that’s certainly what fans will see in her new series, Decoded, on MTV (other), MTV’s short-form digital content studio.
But Ramsey promises she’ll also tackle some heavy (and tragically timely) social issues, from police targeting young black men in the U.S. to systemic violence and inequality in the justice system, with the aim of prompting a broader conversation.
“Every single day we have a new story about unarmed people of color, black or Latino, being killed by the police, or a Rachel Dolezal story where people are confused about racial identity even is,” said Ramsey in an interview with StreamDaily. “These spark these conversations that assume that people understand the basics or fundamentals, and they don’t. A lot of this isn’t talked about at school.”
The interview took place the day after nine people, ages 26 to 87 years, were killed in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Ramsey pointed to the shooting as one of the many examples that racism in America has never gone away, despite what many people may choose to believe.
“People think, ‘Well, we have a black president, so racism is over. Martin Luther King had a dream and the dream is realized,'” she said.
Ramsey has been using YouTube for several years to help the public realize that racism is still alive and well, even through the smallest interaction. She first gained attention online when her video “Shit white girls say (to black girls)” went viral in 2012. The video has garnered 11.5 million views to date on YouTube.
Since then, Ramsey has become a correspondent with MTV, and most of her videos can be found on the MTV News channel on YouTube.
There, she’s still using the same cutting-edge comedy to shed light on issues she says are more relevant than ever.
Ramsey said Decoded takes a “101” approach, introducing and providing context for issues that aren’t common knowledge for a lot of people.
“In order to fight for equality for everyone, you kind of have to do the homework. This catches you up.”
In the three weeks since its premiere, Decoded has covered topics such as police brutality, stereotypes about fried chicken and watermelon, and, most recently, Dolezal’s self-identification as a black woman. It uses comedic elements like the animated “Racism-o-meter” and scripted sketches to get across some disturbing facts about race relations, past and present:
- Starting in the late 1800s, fried chicken has been used to portray black people as barbaric and savage slaves who would eat with their bare hands.
- There was a successful fried chicken chain the U.S. called “The Coon Chicken Inn,” featuring a smiling blackface character as its logo, until the late 1950s.
- There were 14 high-profile cases of unarmed black men and youths killed by police in 2014, with the youngest being 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
“By educating a younger audience, we can encourage (them) to be really thoughtful about the content they consume so that 10 years from now, there will be a better life than they have now,” she said.
And it doesn’t just stop at race. Ramsey believes we’re seeing a cultural shift that allows all kinds of marginalized people to tell their stories.
Openly gay YouTubers such as Tyler Oakley and What The Buck have been embraced by the masses through their YouTube fame, while transgender people have been more visible in the mainstream media than ever.
Netflix’s Orange is the New Black was one of the first shows to prominently feature a transgender woman as a character (played by transgender actor Laverne Cox). Since then, other shows on digital and OTT services, such as True Trans with Laura Jane Grace (AOL On) and Transparent (Amazon), have also been introduced to popular culture.
Ramsey was quick to point out that, while the popularity of such shows is a good thing, to regard the subject matter as a “trend” is dangerous and erases the experience of many.
“There were trans people long before Laverne Cox was on Orange is the New Black,” she said. “To boil someone’s identity down to a trend is really messed up.”
In the end, said Ramsey, Decoded is intended to add to the conversation and, hopefully, provide some understanding and enlightenment.
Will society ever be perfect? It’s doubtful, said Ramsey: “Unless we can wipe the slate clean and start with a new justice system, a new education system, a new housing situation, we’re always going to have work to do.”
Instead, it’s the small victories that she counts on to pave the way to a better future.
“It’s so cool to get messages from kids who are 15 years old who say, ‘I watch your show and it opened my mind and I talked to my parents about it at dinner.’ It’s really awesome to be a part of that,” she said.